There is a lot of talk these days about collaboration, and in Delaware many nonprofits are collaborating at some level with others. DANA has held several workshops on the various types of collaboration, including working together for collective impact. Partnering is not only smart from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint, but it can also help to strengthen your leadership, as well as your organization. There are many ways to start the pathway to collaboration. One of them is by joining a network.
A recent article by Jennifer Chandler and Kristen Scott Kennedy from the National Council of Nonprofits highlights the benefits of being part of a network. Networks help advance the first step in any partnership or collaboration: building trust. By getting together regularly, group leaders break down resistance to sharing as they get to know others in the network. Mutual sharing of experiences and insights helps accelerate innovation, expand perspectives, and gain insights on what is happening in Delaware. Once trust is there, exploration of mutual initiatives begin to break down organizational resistance to working together. New programs, or cost sharing initiatives, become a reality. And leaders who are part of networks and coalitions find they also have a more powerful voice for advocacy activities.
DANA is a network. As the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, we convene nonprofit leaders in training, through member events, and our annual conference. We advocate for the interests of the nonprofit sector, and those who support it. We work in partnership with other state-wide organizations such as the Delaware Grantmakers Association, the Delaware Community Foundation, the United Way, Chambers of Commerce, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Our mission to strengthen enhance and advance nonprofits would not be possible without the connections among members, alliance partners, and government agencies. And our networking initiatives have expanded to support Executive Directors through the E2E Peer Networking sessions we're hosting each month.
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) have recently released studies on the skills required for effective nonprofit leadership. Both studies reveal that success in delivering mission can no longer be managed within organizational silos. Today, leaders must exhibit the ability to collaborate, work across organizational boundaries, network, and place solutions above their personal and organizational interests. Unfortunately, the GEO study also revealed that less than a quarter of nonprofit leaders ranked themselves as strong in these areas. That is concerning.
As nonprofit leaders we are challenged to “squeeze blood out of a turnip.” One way to actually accomplish this is to work with others to share resources to make mission happen. Sometimes being part of a network costs money, but fees are usually well worth the benefits. However, most of what is required to network or collaborate is a commitment of time: time to meet and get to know others, and time to explore ways to make things better. I know time is in short supply for just about everyone. However, the rewards of being energized in working together and moving closer towards common goals can be great.
In Delaware, there are plenty of ways to connect with others. I’ve counted over 22 network organizations in addition to DANA that provide opportunities for nonprofit leaders to connect, partner, and learn from each other. Most likely there are others, as I’m still learning the sector. As Hildy Gottlieb says from Creating the Future, "Individually we don’t have enough resources, but collectively we do." Join DANA, join other networks, and strengthen your leadership and organization so that it can be successful in delivering its mission more effectively and efficiently.